Handy Guide to the UK’s Top 10 Garden Birds
We all like to see wildlife visiting our gardens. As for feathered ones, keep your eyes open for these top 10 most likely-to-be-spotted garden birds!
These friendly little garden birds are residents in the UK. They live in colonies and nest in holes or crevices within buildings, among ivy or other bushes, and they also use nestboxes. Using a variety of materials to make their nest, (from string to paper), both parents will incubate the eggs (between three and five) and raise the young.
To tell them apart: male house sparrows are streaky-brown above and grey below, have chestnut wings with white wingbars and a grey cap. Females and juveniles are brown. These birds aren’t usually afraid of visiting your bird feeders, and in fact, they eat almost anything: seeds, suet, peanuts and even scraps! In 2016, the house sparrow was voted the most commonly observed garden bird in the UK, according to the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch – so you have good chance of spotting them.
A noisy character in the garden. These striking birds are truly beautiful when you see them up-close. Black to begin with, their feathers soon shine with a gloss of purples and greens. In the breeding season, adults have yellow bills. If they are tinted with blue, they are males, and pink are females. However, in winter, their plumage is duller with white spots and the bill is darker. Juveniles are dull brown in colour.
Starlings use gardens all year round, but those visiting in the winter, could be migrant birds from mainland Europe. They will readily use bird feeders throughout the year and have a reputation for emptying them very quickly! A very sociable species, they spend a lot of their time in large flocks, roosting and performing sweeping, aerial display – especially in the winter.
Unmistakable when they visit, blue tits are colourful little birds with blue caps, white cheeks, black eyestripes, greeny-blue backs, yellow bellies, blue wings and tails. Well-adapted to gardens, they will enjoy visiting peanut feeders and have even mastered breaking the tops of milk bottles to drink the creamy top part off! In winter, they will form flocks with other tits, roaming the countryside and visiting gardens in groups.
Though the typical nest site is a hole in a tree, blue tits have been recorded nesting in a great variety of situations, from letterboxes to street lamps. Clutches as large as 19 eggs have been recorded.
A friendly elegant bird that has regularly inspired writers and musicians, including the Beatles. They are especially fond of feeding on lawns and can be seen with their heads cocked to one side, listening for earthworms. They also feed on insects and berries, so leaving out old apples are a great way to attract this melodic bird.
Male blackbirds are entirely black with a yellow bill and yellow ring around the eye. Females are dark brown, with streaking on the chest and throat.
The woodpigeon is by far the most numerous large wild bird in Britain, with a population estimated at around 2.5 million pairs. They can be identified by their grey bodies and white neck patch (which takes 16 weeks to develop) and white wing patches.
Woodpigeons feed on seeds, leaves, grains, fruit, peas and root crops and can become a serious agricultural pest in certain areas. You’ll be surprised just how much a woodpigeon can fit into its crop: as many as 150 acorns, 1,000 grains of wheat or 200 beans! They make very flimsy nests in trees, where the female lays two eggs. Both parents incubate and raise the young, feeding them on 'pigeon milk' – a milky substance which is stored in their crop.
A very bright and beautiful bird that is happy to visit bird tables and feeders. Goldfinches are small, gingery-brown, with black and yellow wings, a black crown, white cheeks and a bright red face. Their beaks have become especially adapted to extracting seeds from ragwort, teasels and dandelions, but they also eat invertebrates. If you want to attract these birds to your garden, your best lure is to plant a teasle. In summer, teasels have pale purple flowers which go down a storm with bees, butterflies and moths. Goldfinches can’t resist them!
During winter, goldfinches roam about in flocks of up to 100 birds, searching for food. However, some of our UK birds will migrate as far south as Spain to avoid the worst of the harsh weather.
A bird you usually hear before you see them, the chaffinch has an impressive loud song. A little more subtle, these birds prefer to hop about under the bird table, collecting any dropped seeds.
Male chaffinches are unmistakable for anything else. They have pink-red underparts and cheeks, a buff-chestnut back, and a red-buff head and nape which becomes slate-blue during the breeding season. Female and juvenile chaffinches are less colourful, with similar patterning but picked out in shades of brown. The wings of both are dark with white bars. One of the most common birds in the UK, it’s very likely that this colourful bird will be paying a visit to your garden.
The prominent black crown with a characteristic black stripe down the throat and neck, yellow breast, olive green-tinged wings, and blue-ish tail, makes the great tit a very memorable bird.
Known for their intelligence; they also drink milk from bottles and have been known to use pine needles as tools for extracting larvae from holes in trees. Feeding on insects, such as caterpillars and spiders, they also like seeds and berries. In the garden they’re confident to feed from hanging feeders and are especially attracted to sunflower hearts – with some great tits consuming 44% of their body weight over winter.
The only UK bird to be heard singing in the garden on Christmas day. Holding their territories all year round, robins warn off intruders with song. Males may hold the same territory throughout their lives, and will even attack a bundle of red feathers or their own reflection if they mistake it for another individual. During the breeding season the female is allowed into the male's territory where she sets up a nest of dead leaves, moss and hair. Nests are often made in the oddest of places: plant pots, old wellies and shelves, but ivy and other shrubs are their natural choice.
The red breast of adult robins is instantly recognisable making this species one of the most straightforward to identify. Juvenile robins lack the red breast and have brown upper parts and breast speckled with dark brown. Bit by bit the red breast starts to appear in late summer.
Beautiful, distinctive, cheeky and confident, there’s no question why they won the British public over, as it was crowned UK’s national bird in 1960.
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